In an age over-saturated with slick American teen drama series with a supernatural theme – many still characterised by the enduring influence of BUFFY and all of them hoping to be as long running as SUPERNATURAL – HEARTLESS is a distinctively Danish take on the form. Played commendably straight and without the smart-arse, self-aware humour that tends to dominate its U.S. equivalents, it’s an absorbing, if sometimes ponderous, eight-episode serial that has scope for further seasons.
In the early going of episode one, we witness photogenic teen twins Sofie (Julie Zangenberg) and Sebastian (Sebastian Jessen) luring and feeding in an almost vampiric fashion from an unfortunate young man in a nightclub who, as a result of their necessary act, promptly bursts into flames. The siblings have to feed on the life force of other people in order to survive and fatal consequences result if their feeding reaches a certain level. Sebastian, the more sensitive of the duo, wrestles with his own conscience of their activities, and together the twins set out to find out who and what they really are. They revisit the orphanage from which they originally ran away as infants, and discover that their mother attended an ultra-strict, rural boarding school. Joining as second year students, they learn about the dark history of the school itself – with the sadistic modern hierarchy carrying on old traditions of persecution and torture - and its inextricable links to their own bloodline.
Shot in muted tones and colours with the central school permanently enshrouded by mist, HEARTLESS is an atmospheric series built around a premise that inevitably echoes significant earlier American genre works. Sebastian (who tortuously reins in his need to feed wherever possible) gets the come-on from various girls at the school but his perfectly normal lustiness blurs with the unavoidable needs of his monstrous self when aroused, a la CAT PEOPLE. (The notion of a tortured, handsome male lead unable to fulfil romantic relationships due to the threat he poses, is of course, a throwback to BUFFY and ANGEL). The concept of family members with a desperate compulsion to feed on humans and a peculiarly incestuous relationship with each other has echoes of Stephen King’s far sillier SLEEPWALKERS. There are also CARRIE-inspired sub-plots involving the telekinetic powers of key secondary characters.
It could very easily be reincarnated as a generic, slick U.S. series, but the execution here is very Scandinavian. The tone is sombre and understated, with an underlying erotic charge and a real effort to minimise FX and melodrama in favour of a realistic approach to the potentially outlandish material. The backstory, including flashbacks to 17th century witch-hunts linked to the school principal’s three daughters, is effectively integrated into the contemporary narrative, and the performances are strong all round: the two leads are striking. For those that crave such things, there are occasional intrusions of predictably bad CGI fire and some fleeting, gratuitous shower-room nudity, but HEARTLESS has a beguiling style of its own, even when retreading age-old plot threads like the old “Only love can break the curse…” chestnut that we have seen in sundry earlier genre projects.
BLU-RAY REVIEW – THE DRILLER KILLER– **
Directed by Abel Ferrara, Starring Abel Ferrara, Baybi Day, Carolyn Marz, Alan Wynroth. Horror, USA, 95 Minutes. Cert. 18.
Released in the UK by Arrow Video on DVD/Blu-Ray on the 28th November.
Originally released in 1979, THE DRILLER KILLER became something of a cult classic in the uk, largely due to the fact it was banned for fifteen years as one of the infamous 'video nasties'. A cut version was released in 1999 before a full, uncut version was released three years later. Now, it gets a re-release on Blu-ray.
In part slasher film and black comedy/horror, THE DRILLER KILLER tells the story of struggling New York artist Reno (director Abel Ferrara under the pseudonym Jimmy Laine). Struggling with debt, plagued by visions and annoyed by the music of a nearby band, Reno is driven to go on a murderous spree with the titular power tool.
Obviously controversial in its day, this is a film that has not aged well at all. Its ability to shock has almost completely evaporated, especially in the post 'gorno' world with many of the murder scenes being simply ridiculous to the point of laughable.
What we're therefore left with is a plot that doesn't really involve or entertain, with a lack of sympathetic characters or central hero/heroine to root for. 'This film should be played loud!' an opening cue card informs us but doing so simply ratchets up the heavy soundtrack which, much like the film itself, is devoid of any subtlety. It also doesn’t help that the plot doesn’t really go anywhere, once Reno starts his killing spree.
Films that aim to shock rarely have much by the way of staying power unless they invest well in plot, theme and character but this does little to truly engage its audience.
In 1979 this made a name for itself but forty years on it struggles to really hold up. A re-make was shelved a few years ago and that’s probably for the best.
Some things are best left in the past.
Extras: There are two versions of the film to choose from – the original theatrical version (over which Ferrara provides a commentary) and a pre-release cut, which is perhaps for die-hard fans of the original to contrast and compare.
Aside from a trailer and a Ferrara interview, the remaining extras are more focused on Ferrara’s career than THE DRILLER KILLER itself. Most notable is his 2010 documentary MULBERRY ST. which examines the New York location where Ferrara lived and filmed much of his work.
Critic Alexandra Heller-Nicholas rounds off the package with a visual essay of Ferrara’s films and career.